Daisy, a former University Challenge winner, is a very active member of Michaela’s governing body.
This review appeared in The Sunday Times on 16 March 2014:
Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou
A brilliant young teacher’s controversial attack on ‘progressive’ education teaching methods
Seven years ago, Daisy Christodoulou was one of those freakishly knowledgeable young people whose displays of omniscience on University Challenge captured the imagination of the popular press: “Could Daisy be Britain’s brightest student?” was one of the tabloid headlines of the day.
Now Christodoulou, still in her twenties, should make headlines for a second time. Seven Myths about Education, her first work, is a heat-seeking missile aimed at the heart of the old educational establishment. Among the targets of this remarkable book are the idea that the teaching of facts prevents understanding; that teacher-led instruction demands passivity from pupils; that “projects and activities” are the best way to learn; and that the teaching of knowledge is “indoctrination”.
You can immediately see that her intellectual adversary is “progressive” educational doctrine; but she points out that her own belief in teaching via accumulation and absorption of facts is itself a radical break from more than half a century of received opinion, and that the dominance of progressive educational methods in the state sector has itself contributed to growing disparity in educational outcomes between rich and poor.
Her anger on this count is palpable. She comes from the working-class East End of London, but won an assisted place at a private school: “From the moment I got the assisted place, I was well aware of how fortunate and privileged I was. When I graduated, one of the reasons I decided to train as a teacher was to try to share the good luck and privilege I had had with others… I taught at a secondary school in London for three years and enjoyed it immensely. However, day after day I would be confronted with astonishing evidence of the pupils’ low levels of basic skills and knowledge.”
Christodoulou was initially perplexed by her inability to get her pupils at a “particularly challenging school” to acquire the skills to prosper. It did not occur to her to blame the prescribed teaching methods. But then she got hold of a book called Visible Learning by John Hattie. Unlike the progressive educationalists’ theories — which stem from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Education and its declaration, “Teachers, give your scholar no verbal lessons; he should be taught by experience alone”— Hattie’s work was unpolitical and scientific. And his research showed that “direct instruction” — in which “the teacher decides the learning intentions and success criteria…[and] evaluates if they understand what they have been told by checking for understanding and then retelling them” — was immensely powerful. This method was in stark contradiction to the “independent learning” taught at teacher-training institutions. Hattie recorded that when he gave the results of his research to such students “already indoctrinated” to believe instruction was “bad”, they were stunned.
Christodoulou’s reaction was the same, but then: “I planned and taught a sequence of lessons on English grammar based on the idea of direct instruction. I was astonished at how successful they were. Pupils were able to learn concepts which I had previously thought were just too tricky or difficult for them to bother with.”
The problem for those schools that want to follow the same path is that Ofsted, despite attempts by its new leader Sir Michael Wilshaw to challenge its fixation with “independent learning”, still marks down teachers who appear to be “directing” the class. Three months ago a school in Christodoulou’s old east London stamping ground was criticised by Ofsted because “in some lessons work is over-directed by the teacher and there are few opportunities for students to find things out for themselves” — such as, in study of Romeo and Juliet, spending the lesson making puppets of the two lovers. Depressingly, Christodoulou relates, this complete waste of an English lesson was itself singled out for praise by Ofsted inspectors.
And what will this amazingly precocious author be doing seven years from now? Head of Ofsted sounds about right.
Routledge £14.99/ebook £14.99 pp133
Buy for £13.49 (including p&p) from the ST Bookshop